Coronavirus and First Church Amherst

March 12, 2020

Dear ones,

Before we get down to the details of disease prevention and disruptions to our normal routines, can we just grant that these are unsettling times? That acknowledgement feels important to me. But even more important is the awareness that we are in this together, that our community is compassionate and creative, loving and smart, and that God is our refuge and strength.

More than anything, I hope you will know that you are not alone. Whether you are feeling anxious about your chances of contracting COVID-19, stressed out by the steady stream of news and information, or uncertain about what lies ahead, please know that God is with you. Your church is here for you. If you need to stay home, we want to support you. And if developments require us to cancel worship, we will find new ways to take care of one another.

There is no reason to let fear get the best of us. We are the church! We will be sure to follow trusted public health guidelines, and we will take care of one another. We trust that light shines in the darkness and that new and good things can come from the most threatening situations. Meantime, let’s all commit to praying for one another and for every person, family, health care provider, business, institution, and government agency impacted by this virus.

Now, about those details and decision points:

Please know that I and the Elected Leadership Team are in regular consultation with church member Sara Aierstuck, RN, FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) and Director of Health & Counseling at Hampshire College. Sara has her finger on the pulse of the latest public health guidances around COVID-19 prevention, and she is also aware of the unique role of the church in helping each of us maintain good spiritual and emotional health.

With that in mind, our current plan is to continue to gather for Sunday morning worship, AND to make those gatherings as safe as possible. If public health authorities recommend cancelling all public gatherings, we will suspend in-person worship services until they are deemed safe. Making worship as safe as possible will require the love, intentionality, wisdom, compassion, and care of us all, but with God’s help, Sara’s guidance, our own common sense, and a shared love that is strong and true, I have every confidence that we can do it, and that our shared time together will make us even stronger.

Public safety and compassionate care for one another begins with staying home if you are sick or if you have traveled in an area with high levels of COVID-19 infection in the past 14 days. Please let me know if you are sick or in self-quarantine because of possible exposure to illness so that we can pray for you and consider together how else to support you.

Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. If that describes your situation, please make choices to protect your health, and consider staying out of worship services for a while. And please stay in touch so that we can continue to support and pray for one another.

Our worship services will be different in these ways:

*To prevent sharing germs, please practice “social distancing.” Try to sit at least six feet apart from others.

*Passing of the Peace: Let’s get creative! Find ways to pass the peace of Christ that do not involve shaking hands, hugging, or other touching.

*Communion: We will not dip the Bread of Life into the Cup of Blessing. There will be a symbolic cup on the communion table, but we will receive bread only, and the deacons and I will sterilize our hands before sharing the bread (as we did last Sunday).

*Coffee Hour: For now we think it best to offer only coffee, tea, and cold drinks.

If we have to cancel worship:

*We are in the early stages of considering various options for how to do worship at a distance. One option we are exploring is the live-streaming of certain parts of the service. Please let us know (a) if you would like to have the service streamed via your computer or smartphone and, especially if you do not have a computer or smartphone, (b) if you would be interested in gathering with a few others in someone’s home to watch the stream and sing the hymns.

*We will let you know. Given that things are changing day by day, we are preparing to make cancellation information available in several different ways: (1) by email, (2) on the church website, (3) on the church Facebook page, and (4) on the church answering machine.

Above all, let us continue to love and care for one another in this time. Be gentle with yourself and with others. Reach out—to get help and/or to offer help. And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Love and peace,
Pastor Vicki, Sara Aierstuck, and the Elected Leadership Team

Annual Meeting: February 23

Our Annual Meeting will begin Sunday, February 23 during our normal worship time. This is an experiment aimed at making it easier for more church members to participate in the Annual Meeting. As always, all people are welcome! Just be aware that our worship service will be brief (about half an hour) and will not include some of the normal worship elements (including a sermon). Hope to see you there!

The Season of Lent: For God So Loves the World

Lent at First Church is a season of spiritual renewal, community, dedication, and joy. Please consider making these gatherings and events part of your Lenten discipline:

For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only child that everyone might know real and abundant life. —John 3:16, paraphrased

Years of display at sporting events and other public gatherings have both weaponized and trivialized John 3:16. In fact, it is the best and and most profound news: God loves the world! God loves the world so much that God has given us everything!

Lent is a traditional time of focusing on spiritual renewal. This year let us be so focused on God’s love for us and all the world that we are transformed, renewed, and energized by that Love—for the sake of the world. Each Sunday we’ll focus on a different aspect of God’s love, and each Sunday you are invited to bring an object or other representation of something you love, or something or someone in need of God’s love. Together, we’ll create a Lenten altar in the sanctuary to inspire us throughout the season and beyond.

Come and experience God’s love at these Lenten services and gatherings:

Ash Wednesday, February 26: God Loves a Clean Heart
Ashes to Go at noon in the Chapel, from 1 to 2 at the Black Sheep; service at 7 p.m. in the Sanctuary
Sunday, March 1: God Loves Creation

Wednesday, March 4: Reimagining the Bible: Fresh Takes on Old Stories, 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 8: God Loves Relationship

Sunday, March 15: God Loves the Lowly

Wednesday, March 18: Reimagining the Bible: Fresh Takes on Old Stories, 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 22: God Loves the Lost

Sunday, March 29: God Loves Life

Wednesday, April 1: Reimagining the Bible: Fresh Takes on Old Stories, 7 p.m.

Palm/Passion Sunday, April 5: God Loves the Humble

Maundy Thursday, April 9: God Loves the Hungry

Service of Foot-washing, 5 o’clock
Simple Supper: 6 o’clock
Service of Tenebrae: 7 o’clock

Good Friday, April 10: Community ecumenical service at noon, location TBD

Easter Sunday, April 12: God Loves New Life


Advent is an invitation: a divine summons to desire, to acknowledge the constant craving implanted in your heart. Quiet encouragement to be still. A gentle wake-up call to wonder. Holy permission to put down all the things you think you should be doing for God and, instead, simply revel in God’s love for you and our world.

What does it mean to identify as Christian?

Join in a discussion as we explore together what it means to identify as Christian, and wonder aloud about whether it is even important to do so. We’ll also talk together about how we live openly and whole-heartedly as Christians. No homework- just come to one, two, or all four gatherings hosted by the GIFT ministry team. October 5 and 20 after worship; October 9 and 23 at 7 p.m. in the lounge.

Blessing of the Animals

Saturday, October 5 at 11 a.m. Bring your beloved animal companions -on leash or in a crate- to the front of the church for this annual blessing.

Youth lead the Day of Sharing service

The Youth Group led worship on September 15, sharing moving reflections about their experience at Broad Street Mission in Philadelphia.

Holy Week at First Church Amherst

Holy Week, the period from Palm/Passion Sunday through Easter Sunday, is a highlight of the church year, a jumble of tradition and emotion, and a collection of powerful and meaningful services. All people–no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey–are welcome to any and all of it.

April 14 is Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey. The people were excited and inspired, and they called Jesus their king and asked him to save him. Meanwhile, the soldiers of the Roman army were entering the city from the opposite direction, a show of military might and human power designed to discourage any rebellious behavior during the Passover festival. Because Jesus and his followers threatened the imperial order, Jesus’ entry also proved a turning point in his life.

Our service will re-enact the glory of Palm Sunday and begin to usher us into Jesus’ passion. The First Church Choir will sing two anthems, we’ll celebrate Communion, and reflect on what it all means.

April 18 is Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and his new commandment that they love one another as he had loved them. Our offerings begin with a Service of Foot-washing at 5:15 in the Chapel. At 6 o’clock all are invited to a simple supper of soup and bread in the Dining Room. At 7 o’clock the solemn and beautiful Service of Tenebrae begins in the Chapel.

April 19 is Good Friday and, as always, we participate in an ecumenical community service. This year’s service will be held at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. It begins at noon.

Easter Sunday is April 21! We’d love to see you for a joyful celebration of resurrection and new life, complete with balloons, glorious music, Communion, and an after-service egg hunt for children.

Come experience the promise, power, and joy of following Jesus!